Congratulations on graduating all you higher education administration/student affairs administration Masters students. If you already secured a job at your dream institution or any job at all, a big kudos to you all. I celebrated my one year anniversary of the first day of the rest of my life (graduating with my M.Ed) and am about to celebrate my first year as a new professional. Sure there have been lots of changes and challenges, but as I watch the HESA grads from my institution go off and begin life as student affairs professionals, I can’t help but pay forward some words of advice that I have learned in my first year. My advice below is a springboard from the book Basic Black: The Essential Guide for Getting Ahead at Work (and in Life) by Cathie Black, head of Hearst Magazines.
Don’t forget where you came from, but don’t always compare. I believe this is the most important thing to keep in the back of your mind. I’m sure all of you have these wonderful experiences from prior institutions, and you should be proud of what you did and what you learned, but to me, I’m in a new place and I need to learn the how my new institution functions, rather than “well at xyz university… we did _______________”. I think new professionals need to understand why their institution does things the way they do. Look at the history of the department – get to know the people who have been there for more than 10, 20, or even 30 years so you can understand where and how your department has grown to where it is now. It is great to bring a different perspective and offer it in the form of a solution to a problem. When you feel comfortable, suggest something without mentioning that you did it that way at another institution. For example, at my graduate school, we collaborated a lot with campus partners. At my current institution, we need to build on that. Once I was comfortable being in my current position, I suggested we collaborate with campus partners in order to make RA training more engaging and also to avoid reinventing the wheel. Bringing your experiences to the table is a great way to bring in a different perspective, but remember to do it in a way that is constructive.
Be yourself. I once got the compliment from a colleague who interviewed me on my campus interview. He said “you are exactly the way you were on your on campus interview”. I was flattered. I stayed true to myself on all my on campus interviews because, in the end, that’s what you’re going to get. Some of my colleagues also commented that they’ve hired a lot of people who may seem like the best candidate on their interview, but once they take the reins of the position on campus, their personalities change… and sometimes not for the better. So please, be yourself because that is why the department hired you! As Cathie says in her book “Be who you are in whatever you do”.
Eat a slice of humble pie. You may have been the best graduate assistant or professional in your old position and while it is ok to have confidence, please don’t let it spill over into cocky territory. Your experiences and your professional reputation are definitely known to your colleagues, so be humble and take the criticism. Like I said above, not all departments are created equally at different institutions, so expect the change and learn. I still am not above working in the trenches with my RAs – hauling personal belongings into storage after closing or working desk hours to alleviate the desk workers. If your staff sees you working hard, chances are in the end, they will have much more respect for you.
Be open. We work in a field where we need to be non-judgmental toward our students/residents, but, if you’re like me and are moving to a different region for a job, be open about the changes in culture and environments in your new position. Be open to the opportunities to get involved in the community. Many places have young adult organizations and many have volunteer opportunities. If you’re moving to a place where you don’t know anyone, this is a great way to get out there and meet the people in the town/city where you work. Don’t limit yourself to hanging out with people from your office/department.
Steer clear of the office drama. It’s very easy to get sucked into the gossip and drama going on in your department/silo/residence hall. Keep to yourself and all will be fine. Once you get sucked in, it’s hard to regain/ give trust to anyone in your area and that means you won’t be able to enjoy your job. If you have a problem with someone, live by the 48 hour rule: confront that person within 48 hours and talk about it. Once 48 hours passes, just forget about it because it’s probably not worth your time.
I’m sure people will comment with more advice to all you brand new professionals. Congratulations again and good luck in your new positions.